Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Will the JGR Drivers Work Together in Talladega?

Will Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Amelia Spell Another Plate Win on Sunday?

Once said by literary critic John Churton Collins, “In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.”

No better words fit driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and the Hendrick Motorsports chassis No. 88-872 Chevrolet nicknamed Amelia after Amelia Earhart. Together, they have paired for the past five restrictor plate races at Daytona and Talladega, laying down stellar on-track performance ever since with two wins and four top-3 finishes, along with 271 laps led in those five races.

The only negative, which sparks the whole adversity thing? This year’s Daytona 500 when Earnhardt spun into the frontstretch wall after losing it all on his own on lap 169. Much of Junior Nation feared that the powerful pair could never see the green flag ever again. But crew chief Greg Ives came to the rescue as he tweeted reassurance that Amelia will make a comeback in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega.

I had no doubt that Earnhardt would’ve been a contender in any other HMS chassis – or a shoe box for that matter – at Talladega. But with the confidence in the racecar for Junior, it could be a deadly combination once again.

Who Can Be the Surprise XFINITY Winner at Talladega?

For the XFINITY Series, the past few years have seen phenomenal stories showcased at Talladega Superspeedway. Who can forget JJ Yeley‘s back-to-back top-10 finishes there? Or the thrilling duo of Joe Nemechek and Mike Wallace almost pulling out the win in 2011?

Unlike the Sprint Cup Series, the XFINITY field has only one chance to let it hang wide open at Talladega every year. That stat makes the underdogs’ positive results even more special for those small teams and puts an even broader focus on this weekend. Pile on the fact that a Chase berth is now on the line, and nothing could beat a trip to victory lane.

Despite the obviously heightened chances of a small team grabbing a win, the Sprint Cup regulars still shine in Talladega, with seven of the last nine races going to the Cup boys. However, with the stellar performance of Joe Gibbs Racing this season – highlighted by its dominance in this year’s Daytona 500 – that three-car team could give light to two series regulars and a young rookie in Matt Tifft.

The team has absolutely owned qualifying over the past five races, have won five of eight races this year, and is two years removed from Elliott Sadler‘s Talladega triumph in 2014.

But outside of the major teams, let’s go back to what little guys can turn Saturday in the day we could never forget. Firstly, Ryan Preece could have a solid chance to bring home a strong effort as he drives the No. 01 JD Motorsports car that has finished 11th, eighth and seventh in the past three Talladega races.

When I think of plate racing and underdogs, I think both John Wes Townley and Ray Black, Jr. could be holding some surprises for us. Townley has contended for plate wins on the Truck Series side, while Black grabbed his first and only top-5 finish at Daytona last year in Trucks.

Lastly, Blake Koch and the No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet can pack a punch this time around. Starting and finishing ninth on debut in Daytona, Koch has more than enough experience to know how to take advantage of a good opportunity.

Will Mercedes Win 10th Straight Formula 1 Race in Russia?

Probably, right?

For the first time since the beginning of the Mercedes Era in 2014, the Silver Arrows have never been on as long a winning streak as right now in Formula 1. With Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg winning the last six races of 2015, Rosberg has opened the 2016 season will stellar pace, taking all three races so far.

Lewis Hamilton celebrating his 2014 Russian GP win (credit: AP)
Lewis Hamilton celebrating his 2014 Russian GP win (Photo Credit: AP)

In the midst of Rosberg’s never-before-seen dominance over teammate Hamilton, driver No. 44 has struggled on starts and has shockingly only led one lap through three races in 2016. Despite two poles, Hammer Time has missed the nail on the rush to turn 1 each time.

Though some may say it’s a little far to put the likes of Sebastian Vettel and Daniel Ricciardo ahead of Hamilton on the must-watch list, I believe it could be time to break up the Mercedes run.

On the fairly new Sochi circuit in Russia, which will see only its third grand prix, last year’s event saw a shakeup that put Force India’s Sergio Perez on podium for just the fifth time of his career. Rosberg retired from the race early, putting the win firmly in the hands of Hamilton, who won by six seconds over Vettel.

Then there’s Williams and Valtteri Bottas. The No. 77 driver posted a podium result in the track’s debut race in 2014 and battled Kimi Raikkonen on the final lap for third last year before the Ferrari man pulled a late move and caused Bottas to crash out. Though he has scored just seven points this season, this track seems to fit the cool Finn like Bahrain fits Raikkonen. He and the Red Bull duo of Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat are the likely drivers to end Mercedes’ win streak.

Will the JGR Drivers Work Together in Talladega

Following its almost perfect Daytona 500 earlier this year, Joe Gibbs Racing will look for a repeated fortune this weekend.

Is it a tall order to ask for? Obviously in plate racing, it’s all about teamwork and matching bumpers while avoiding the natural accidents that take place at any time throughout Sunday.

The four JGR guys of Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards lined their Toyotas up front while affiliate driver Martin Truex, Jr. notched the team a fifth competitor.

Jumping out of line to pass one or two cars could be achievable with little or no help. But to pass a line of five cars that are working in unison, it’s nearly impossible even with a solid pusher behind. Even perfecting restarts in the closing restarts, it was a perfect team going… until the final corner. That last corner maneuver by Hamlin to win the Daytona 500 flipped expectations when it came to teammates racing teammates.

For 199 laps, it’s all give. On the last lap, it’s all take. Just like we want it

Ironically, JGR is coming off a similar incident last week at Richmond when Edwards bumped Busch coming to the checkered flag to steal the race win. Talk about unexpected.

With three of their drivers already locked into the Chase, I expect similar winning moves made for themselves. For Kenseth and Truex, they would have to hope for a change in teamwork or a sly blocking move to get the win for themselves.

About the author

Growing up in Easton, Pa., Zach Catanzareti has grown his auto racing interest from fandom to professional. Joining Frontstretch in 2015, Zach enjoys nothing more than being at the track, having covered his first half-season of 18 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. With experience behind the wheel, behind the camera and in the media center, he thrives on being an all-around reporter.

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Bill B

While I have no problem with Dale Jr, I hate hearing about “Amelia”. It’s stupid and makes me hope that the car gets demolished to the point where it is unfixable just so I never need to hear about “Amelia” again.


It is silly. But it seems the stage is being set for his “revenge win”. Never mind he was given multiple tries to get it done last fall. It is not in the interest of Nascar to have a NON EARNHARDT win at Dega. And of course his deceased Dad’s B-Day. Way to set the script and get the Earnhardt Dega birthers goin’!!!!!!!!

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